Friday, November 30, 2007

Give me saag paneer or give me death

Ever since D and L’s wedding last May, I have been craving good Indian food. They had the most delicious buffet at their wedding, and the sad truth was that my boned, satin cocktail dress was simply too fitted to allow me to eat more than one plate of food. Which is probably a good thing, but also made me sad, because it was so, so good. Especially the saag paneer, which is a spinach and Indian cheese dish that blows my mind every time I eat it.

So when my friend J offered to bring me to one of her favourite Indian restaurants in Toronto this week while I was there for work, I leaped at the chance. Jaipur Grille is on Yonge Street north of Davisville, and it’s a lovely place painted in a warm cream colour, with some pretty tapestries on the walls and comfortable chairs and tables draped in cream and saffron linens. It’s never full, J says, so we were easily able to walk in off the street at seven o’clock and get a nice table.

J and I are well-matched diners, because we both eat most foods willingly (though I did balk at fried okra. Not a fan of the okra). Earlier in the afternoon, I had turned to her and deadpanned, “I need to ask you a serious question. Do you like saag paneer?” When she replied in the affirmative, I knew dinner was going to be just fine.

We ordered three dishes to share, plus rice and naan, and it was pretty much perfect. We didn’t finish it all, but there was just enough left for J to take home and have for lunch. Their chicken makhani (basically, butter chicken) was perfectly spiced and came with plenty of sauce for dipping the amazing naan into. The aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes with cumin, ginger and turmeric) was sharp and a little crunchy and an awesome contrast to the creamy chicken. And the saag paneer… what can I say. It blew my mind. The paneer cheese was flavourful, soft and yielding but still firm enough to be cut into cubes. The spinach was minced finely and never stringy, with a gorgeous flavour from the tomatoes and spices it’s simmered with. Utter perfection. Even the rice was gorgeously done, fine grains separating and nicely cooked.

We managed to save room for dessert – barely. The daily special was kheer – Indian rice pudding flavoured with almonds and rosewater. It came in a small bowl that was still too big to finish, because it was so rich. I tried my best, though, because it was exotic and incredible. J ordered gulab jamun, dumplings in saffron syrup. Crazy sweet – too sweet even for me. Chai and green tea finished off the meal in fine style. We left full and happy, and I cannot wait to go back. It was far and away the best meal I had all week, a week that included a disappointing sushi lunch, a lonely dinner of seafood salad and a glass of wine, and two lunches catered by the hotel where my conference was – bland and blander. Thank goodness for Indian food.

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